Tue Jul 23, 2024
July 23, 2024

Ukraine at War: Current Labor Reform Law Attacks Workers' Rights and Weakens the Resistance

The aggression of the Russian government daily claims thousands of Ukrainian lives, while the hardships of the working people and the harassment of the invading troops multiply. While most of the well-to-do sectors of society have taken refuge abroad or in other regions far from the occupied or combat zones, the working class finds itself in the front line of the trenches facing the occupiers. In this context, the malice of the Ukrainian bourgeoisie and its political representatives, who take advantage of the war to “legislate” attacks on labor rights, is outrageous and unacceptable.
By Herbert Claro and Pavel Polska
Translated from Spanish
At the beginning of March, the Ukrainian parliament introduced a bill with changes in labor relations under martial law: draft Law No. 7160 “On the Agreement of Labor Relations under Martial Law.” The President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, faced with this initiative, waited for the “reaction of the society and trade unions.” However, the law was passed in parliament on March 15. And on March 23, Zelensky signed it.
The law is nothing more than a blatant aid to the bosses and multinationals to respond to the “challenges during the war,” which introduces alterations in the country’s labor law, allowing more flexibilization and taking away workers’ rights.
This is nothing new. Successive Ukrainian governments (including Kuchma, Yuschenko, Yanukovych) have attempted to change labor laws since the early 2000s, often in the face of union mobilizations. At the beginning of 2020, the Ministry of Economy tried to make the labor law more precarious. This bill would allow the termination of contracts without just cause, reduce the value of overtime pay, and force workers to disclose any information that could affect the performance of their work, e.g., health-related absences.
The proposal of the Ukrainian bourgeoisie, supported and advised by imperialism, was to create a neo-liberal model of precarization of labor with the justification of attracting investments of European and Russian multinational companies, deepening a characteristic in the Eastern European region regarding the supply of cheap labor. A strong campaign by the trade unions to resist the changes in the labor laws was then carried out, and the government backed down.
The Minister of Economy then decided to change tactics and bet on presenting the reform in parts and in dribs and drabs, in an attempt to break the workers’ resistance. During the pandemic, there were attempts at small changes in clauses of the labor law and now, as a result of the war against Russia, the bourgeoisie and the government presented more measures of flexibilization.
The labor legislation comes from the parliament with the endorsement of the current government
The Ukrainian government is deciding to pass a perverse law to attack workers. This comes even in the midst of armed conflict that is driving thousands of people from their homes, creating one of the largest refugee crises in Europe since World War II, and with the death of young people and workers resisting on the front lines.
While the workers are voluntarily resisting in cities and regions of the country to fight the invaders, suffering bombardments, hunger, and other atrocities, the government approves measures to save the income of the bourgeoisie and the interests of multinational companies.
On March 15, parliamentarians approved the deregulation of certain conditions of labor relations during the period of martial law in order not to harm enterprises during the period of the conflict. Bill No. 7160, for its part, directly affects workers in the sectors involved in evacuating people, medical assistance, factory workers, and energy/power.
The bill also contains an article on the temporary suspension of an employment contract, freeing companies to carry out layoffs. If the area where the company is located is under attack, it can suspend the employment contract on its own initiative without two weeks’ notice. The management of the country’s railroad company was directed to prepare a list of workers to be suspended due to the low flow, and even to block the railroad tracks due to the conflict.
Employers will be able to enter into labor contracts directly with the worker. Furthermore, the text of the law states that such a direct labor contract with the worker may be made in writing or orally. The law also gives the employer the right to transfer an employee to another employment not stipulated by the labor contract, without their consent (with the exception of transfer to work in areas where there is direct conflict with the occupation forces).
If it is impossible to pay wages due to hostilities, payment of wages may be suspended until the company’s ability to perform its main activities is restored.
The law allows an increase in the workday up to 60 hours per week, and for employees with a reduced workday of 36 hours per week (the case in most large factories and plants), the workday may be increased to 50 hours per week; the starting and ending time of the daily work is determined by the employer. In addition, the weekly rest period may be reduced from 48 to 24 hours.
Women (except those pregnant or nursing a baby under one year of age) may be hired for heavy labor or work involving harmful or dangerous working conditions and subway work.
The law also makes a direct attack on union rights. The union’s consent will not be necessary to suspend a labor contract at the employer’s initiative. Employers are also exempted from their obligation to pay contributions to unions.
The anti-worker law written by the bosses and its concrete application in the lives of workers
We have consulted with long-time union leaders and independent labor activists about the nature and effect of this law. They have told us that they are now facing more terrible attacks and greater threats than those posed by the newly passed law.
As we read in an article published on the site of the Ukrainian socialist organization Sotsyalnyi Rukh: “Thousands of metalworkers who volunteered or joined the Territorial Defense Forces are dissatisfied with these changes in the law. The stance of the employers seems cunning: but Article 9-1 of the Labor Code of Ukraine gives them the full right to establish better working conditions compared to the new legislation.”*
These comrades clearly understand that this law is not surprising, coming from this parliament and government that represent big business and foreign corporations. But at the same time they assure us that in the course of the increasingly generalized arming of the organized workers, the attempts to concretize these measures on the part of the bosses will be the cause of a social outbreak that transforms the war against the invaders into civil war. And it is this correlation of forces between the classes that the bosses, for now, are taking care of. And they have cited examples of multinational companies that have shown themselves to be cautious and seeking “dialogue” to “clarify the scope of the measures” to be applied according to the new law.
No to labor reform in Ukraine! Unrestricted support to all workers who are in resistance!
On its site, the organization “Sotsyalnyi Rukh” appeals to the trade unions to respond to the actions of the bosses, which leads to the increase of social tension by restricting the workers their deserved guarantees. In the same way, the international labor movement must repudiate the Russian aggression that today is taking place from the invasion of territories in Ukraine; however, it must also remain independent and fight side by side with the Ukrainian workers against the attacks of their own government in the service of the oligarchs and the imperialist multinationals.
It is unacceptable that, in the midst of the conflict, where important victories are only won through the resistance of the youth and workers on the battlefronts, they are suffering an attack such as this labor reform. Many workers in important sectors such as education, public employees, mining, metallurgy, and power generation, are directly involved in the resistance. Workers who are taking up arms or helping in logistics and infrastructure are suffering the direct consequences of the horrors of war without knowing if they will have guaranteed wages and jobs. The Zelensky government must guarantee from the Ukrainian state all the living conditions of the working class, which is the fundamental pillar of the resistance and the mainstay of the war economy, with an immediate moratorium on foreign debt payments to the usurers of the IMF.
The international labor movement must denounce this labor reform in Ukraine and demand its immediate repeal, as well as the guarantee of job stability and the guarantee of the payment of wages. And support the demand for a moratorium on foreign debt. During the occupation, those who must pay are the bourgeoisie and imperialism, with the expropriation of all private enterprises in the country, in order to ensure income and consumer goods and infrastructure for the struggle of resistance to the occupation.
To attack the workers is to help weaken the resistance and, thus, to be accomplices of Putin and the Russian oligarchy in the midst of the invasion!
*: https://rev.org.ua/problema-7160-yak-uskladnitsya-zaxist-trudyashhix-pid-chas-vijni/
Article based on testimonials and articles by:

  • Yuri Samoilov, chairman of the local trade union of Independent Miners and Metallurgists of Kryvyi Rih
  • Maksym Shumakov – Sotsyalnyi Rukh (Social Movement)

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